Darien High students participate in Chinese cultural exchange concert
DARIEN — There was a lot of chatter backstage at Lincoln Center as students from both Darien High School and the Jinfan Art Troupe — made up of students from five schools in Beijing — crowded together, ready to perform in a cultural exchange concert. However, the Darien students noticed as soon as their Chinese counterparts were up to perform, their playfulness was replaced with intense concentration.
“You saw the precision in their performances onstage, but you also saw it backstage in the wings,” said sophomore Sophia Talwalkar. The 16-year-old was part of the Darien High School Tudor Singers group that performed at the Feb. 5 New York City concert. Hers was one of many observations made by Darien students following the concert meant to teach the two groups about each others’ cultures.
The cultural exchange concert, which also involved the Darien High School Chamber Orchestra, was set up by Darien Superintendent Dan Brenner who used to work with the Chinese troupe when he served as superintendent in Roslyn, N.Y. The Beijing group continued to work with Roslyn schools until they opted out this year, at which point they reconnected with Brenner and arranged an exchange with Darien.
“We were the sole representatives of the United States, which is quite an honor,” said Chris Andrade, a Darien music teacher and the Tudor Singers director. “To perform at a stage like the Lincoln Center is quite a big deal.”
The Chinese students performed dance pieces, music on wind instruments, a traditional Chinese opera, a children’s opera and a dramatic piece. The art troupe, which does performances like this all over the world as a form of outreach, also put on traditional numbers using instruments like the erhu, a two-stringed bow instrument.
“It was a way for the Chinese and Americans to come together to show each other the differences between performances,” said Darien senior Jeremy Merrifield. “It was a way for them to learn about us, as well as a way for us to learn about them.”
Many of the students were impressed by the clean and precise performing style of their Chinese counterparts, as well as the traditional music they performed.
“Two of my favorite things were the dance group and orchestra with traditional instruments,” said junior Evelyn Sload. “The dance group was so precise with their lines. It was cool to see the way they moved as a unit…It’s types of music we don’t get a lot of exposure to. It’s interesting to see people our age perform something so different.”
“I thought one of the most interesting things was their laser-like focus,” added senior Caroline Lui, who said the students gave their all for every performance.
The concert was mostly attended by Darien High School families, as well as New York City’s Chinese community, among whom the performance had been advertised. The Tudor Singers had three weeks to prepare the two songs they performed “MLK” by U2 and the spiritual number “Hand on the Plow.”
“They’re both pieces that are accessible,” the Tudor Singers director said. “It’s easy to learn the notes.
“And,” Andrade added, “we’re representing America.”